Christmas, Torture and Church Growth

The Christian Martyrs’ Last Prayer, by Jean-Léon Gérôme (1883) [courtesy Wikipedia]

By Spencer D Gear

To serve Jesus Christ openly in your community today in the Western world may come with flack, resistance and even discrimination in the workplace. But it is not a patch on what is happening worldwide to the Christians who are being tortured, even murdered, for their faith.

Why is it that followers of Messiah, the “Prince of Peace,” attract so much resistance? Jesus gave a clue when he addressed his disciples: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (John 14:27).

Christian peace is based on a relationship with the King of Kings and is not related to external circumstances. Then add the fact that to be a Christian means submission to the Master’s will. This is not a popular notion. Nor is it politically correct.

As we move into a new year, it is right that we reflect on what is happening to persecuted Christians worldwide.

Ma Yuqin is a Chinese woman who was interrogated by the Chinese police but she would not be tortured to confess. “She never broke when she was tortured with beatings and electrical shocks. Even when she was close to death, she refused to disclose the names of members of her congregation or sign a statement renouncing her Christian faith,” wrote Nicholas Kristof in his column in The New York Times.[1]

The physical torture almost killed her but it was the mental anguish that was worse. She could hear the sounds of her son being tortured in the room next door. Both could hear each other’s screams. There were incentives for them to betray their friends and their faith. “It broke my heart to hear my son’s cries,” said Ma, but it did not break her faith in Christ.

Chinese citizens are burned with cigarettes, beaten with clubs, and some lose their lives. Why? They are Christian worshippers of God.

Instead of turning people away from Christianity, the result has been the growth of the church. Tens of millions of Chinese have embraced Christ and the church. It is just as predicted by church leader of the second century, Tertullian, “Nor does your cruelty, however exquisite, avail you; it is rather a temptation to us. The oftener we are mown down by you, the more in number we grow; the blood of Christians is seed.[2]

The Christian organisation, Open Doors, that ministers to the persecuted, assesses the level of persecution of Christians around the world. Top of the list is North Korea. Keston Institute, a British-based human rights group, says that people found with a Bible in North Korea are “detained, tortured, sent to a re-education camp, or summarily executed.”[3] Number two on the list is Saudi Arabia where arrests, torture, and prison are common. To convert from Islam to another religion in Saudi can bring the death penalty.

Numbers three and four on the list of persecutors are the Marxist countries of Laos and Vietnam. The Keston Institute was watching Russia, Belarus and Uzbekistan with concern.

People today are cynical about zealots who die for their faith. However, these persecuted Christians are not dying to kill the unbelievers, as with suicide bombers, but die in service of “the Prince of Peace,” Jesus Christ. These martyrs die not to slaughter others, but so that others might be saved.

The sufferings of the church in China and the Sudan rival that of those who died under Nero in Rome, in Hitler’s Germany, and in Russia under Stalin. Missions’ strategist, David Barrett, estimates that there have been as many Christian martyrs in the 20th century as in all of the previous 19 centuries combined. This article was more sceptical. It stated:

World Christian Encyclopedia, produced by the Center for the Study of Global Christianity at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary outside Boston declares there have been some 70 million Christian martyrs in history, and more than 45 million in the 20th century. In evangelical circles one often hears the claim that there were more Christian martyrs in the 20th century than in all previous centuries combined.[4]

How should we respond? As we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, who died to save us, we should pray for Ma Yuqin in China and the many others worldwide who are suffering for their faith. The Scriptures exhort us: “Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body” (Hebrews 13:3).


[1] “God and China,” 26 November 2002, available at: [Accessed 1 January 2010].

[2] Tertullian, Apologeticus (or Apologeticum) Adversus Gentes Pro Christianis, Chapter 50, available at: [Accessed 1 January 2010].

[3]Charles Colson, Breakpoint, 8 November 2002, “Remembering the Mistreated: Prayer for Persecuted Beliebvers,” available at: [Accessed 1 January 2010].

[4] Jason Myassee, Christian Century 29 July 2008, “How martyrs are made: Stories of the faithful,” available at: [Accessed 1 January 2010].

Copyright © 2010 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 13 October 2015.